DUBAI // Ben Ryan, the England coach, insists his side are capable of completing a hat-trick of Dubai Rugby Sevens titles this weekend - even though it feels like it is them "against the world".
The holders of the Emirates International Trophy have spent the past six weeks smarting from a performance in the opening round of the world series that Ryan deemed "embarrassing".
They ended up losing in the final of the third-tier competition at the Australia Sevens, and the coach has demanded a major improvement here.
"There is a big chance we can make it three in a row," Ryan said. "We were hungry after our performance on the Gold Coast.
"We felt embarrassed. The players stayed in their houses for a week after we came home, didn't even go out to collect the milk.
"Now we are back in Dubai where we have had the best record of any team for the past five years."
England's tepid display in Australia prompted the most significant backlash of Ryan's six-year tenure of the national team to date.
The coach was particularly annoyed by the intimation that his side were unworthy of the investment made in them.
Mike Friday, Ryan's predecessor as the England coach and now in charge of Kenya, was quoted as suggesting teams with a "£1.5 million [Dh8.8m] budget, 19 full-time players and nine full-time staff" should always challenge for trophies.
"We feel a bit like it is us against the world this weekend," said Ryan.
"We took a lot of stick after that tournament. Our lads got bad press, I got bad press.
"It was the first time we really got hit with some criticism about the programme, and there were some mistruths out in the press about how much our budget is.
"The only people that know our budget are the accountant at the [Rugby Football Union], Rob Andrew [England's elite rugby director] and me. Anyone else who says he does is lying."
Ryan and Friday have each won the Dubai title twice with England. For the first time, Friday is back this weekend with Kenya, who he says "over-performed" by reaching the semi-final on the Gold Coast.
It is his second tournament back following a six-year coaching hiatus, and Friday says he has mixed emotions over the return to a city of his past glories.
"It would be very different," Friday said of the idea of leading his adopted nation to what would be a shock success if Kenya were to triumph here.
"When we did it with England it was the first time England had ever managed to do it and we did it back to back. My sense of satisfaction to see a young developing nation succeed and be a part of that would be a very different emotion.
"It would still fill me with immense pride, not the same national pride I felt with England, but more the sense I had been able to make a difference, to help give direction and focus to the Kenyan programme."
Almost exactly as the Dubai sevens reaches its crescendo on Saturday night, the attention of the wider rugby world will be trained on the XVs encounter between England and New Zealand at Twickenham.
If the same fixture does occur as the climax to this competition, it would pit together the defending Dubai champions - England - and the world series holders - the newly named All Blacks sevens.
"The team we have now is very, very experienced and potentially if we go really well we could go close, but it is going to be tough," said Gordon Tietjens, New Zealand's coach.
"To win a world series you have to do very, very well in the first three tournaments, because otherwise you are chasing the teams ahead of you.
"There are no easy games. Look at England's pool, with South Africa and Samoa. One of them is going to miss out."
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